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Marks My Words: Overcommitted? Get over it.

If you asked any undergrad to describe themself in one adjective right now, they’d almost definitely answer with “tired” or “busy.”  Someone with a little more creativity or a tendency toward being overdramatic will use a better synonym–exhausted, swamped, crushed, etc. Pretty much everyone on the Stanford campus is some level of “busy.” But the question is, how does this make you behave?

Think about a group project. Let’s say that you and four others have to compile a paper together, so you divide up the tasks in a relatively equal way. As soon as you assign sections, someone tentatively frowns, slowly raises a hand and fills you in.

“Hey, so, I’m sorry, but I’m actually pretty busy right now. I’m going to this conference and I’m also taking 21 units. I’m the president of a student group, I have to write five papers by next week and I’m on my dorm’s IM basketball team.”

The weird thing is, the person doesn’t sound crushed and saddened by this looming specter of work and the all-nighters that will follow. This person sounds excited, almost boastful, about how terribly overcommitted they are. “Look at me,” they’re saying, “I’m so busy and important!”

Have you met the busy and important Stanford undergrad? Have you been one at some point? Either way, you know what I mean. My first thought when I meet one of these students is:

“Congrats, you decided to take too many classes!” or “Cool, you chose to be in four student groups!”

Because in the end being busy at Stanford is a choice, a decision that anyone can make. You can sign up for 20 units of engineering classes… if you want. You can join 10 different student groups–they won’t cross-check to see what you’re doing. You can even go to every single on-campus seminar, conference and (free lunch) event that you can find. No one will stop you. And you’ll be very, very busy.

But the real issue, and one of the most common symptoms of the overcommitted student, is the point where they can’t understand how anyone else could possibly be as busy as they are. The students writing honors theses look at you and scoff, “Um, you’re not writing an honors thesis. You’re not busy.” The students on the Undergraduate Senate roll their eyes and say, “You’re not on ASSU; you’re not busy at all.” Repeat for any overcommitted student: Their thing is the most important, busy thing.

Suddenly people are so wrapped up in their own schedules that anything you’re doing is completely unimportant. They can slack off on the group project; they can cut back on their duties in an extracurricular group, and if you subtly try to prod them into doing something, you get a lengthy explanation of how incredibly busy they are. And since you’re not taking those classes, managing those student groups and going to those conferences, you just don’t get it. Sorry.

Sometimes this sets off a chain reaction, and people start trying to one-up each other. “You may have 18 units and be president of a student group, but I have 19 units and am president of two student groups! I don’t have time for this group project either!” Listening to these kinds of competitions just makes me want to take a nap.

And as group members take turns explaining their schedules, there’ll always be a person or two who doesn’t speak up. Others see this and think, “Why’s she being so quiet?” or “Why isn’t he saying how busy he is?” And therefore, “They must not be busy.”

False. Some people are busy, but they’re busy in different ways. Maybe they’re busy because they choose to read in their spare time, or to go to the gym regularly, or to intentionally spend more time with friends. Or maybe they’re just as busy with classes, student groups and events, but they don’t feel the need to actively let everyone know. Not everyone who’s busy feels the need to let everyone know about it.

Now, I’m not suggesting that being busy is a bad thing or that Stanford students should all cut back–well, maybe that’s not true. If you can’t find time to eat balanced meals, sleep more than five hours every night and shower daily, then you should cut back. And there is something fun and exciting about being busy, about rushing from meeting to meeting and packing your day with activities.

But instead of assuming that you might be the busiest person on campus, take a moment to appreciate that everyone here is busy in some way or another. Sure, you might not think that their activities are as “important” as yours are, but importance is subjective. If you take pride in how busy you are, at least have some respect for others’ busy schedules.

If you email her at [email protected], Miriam will try her utmost to reply. But she’s pretty busy.

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